Guiding Eyes for the Blind
|Headquarters||Yorktown Heights, New York|
|Donald Z. Kauth|
President and CEO
|Thomas A. Panek|
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is one of eleven accredited schools in the U.S. for training guide dogs — dogs trained to lead the blind and visually impaired. With its 10-acre (40,000 m2) headquarters, training center and veterinary clinic in Yorktown Heights, New York, Guiding Eyes also operates a canine development center in Patterson, New York and a training site in White Plains, New York.
The school offers a program designed for blind and visually impaired students with additional developmental or physical challenges, such as deafness or seizure disorders. Dogs and staff are specifically selected and receive extra training to enable them to assist these students. Over 1,300 volunteers commit their time and talents to the Guiding Eyes mission. From fostering members of the breeding colony to spending time with the dogs in training to assisting with administrative tasks – each volunteer is essential to the organization's goals.
Guiding Eyes for the blind was founded in 1954 by Donald Z. Kauth in a 19th-century farmhouse. Since then it has graduated over 7,300 guide dog teams and placed 61 service dogs in homes with families challenged by autism. Headquartered in Yorktown Heights New York, thirty-five miles north of New York City, Guiding Eyes for the Blind was the first guide dog training school to be accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Guiding Eyes employs more than 140 people who raise, care and train dogs from their own established gene pool and make them available to recipients free of charge. It depends on donations and a community of more than 1,000 volunteers to provide its numerous programs at no cost to all who use them. Guiding Eyes for the Blind was one of the first schools to accept elderly students and legally blind students who have a degree of residual vision.
Guiding Eyes is an internationally accredited dog school with a 50 year plus legacy of providing the blind and visually impaired with superior Guiding Eyes dogs, training, and lifetime support services. In 1966, Guiding Eyes began breeding their own dogs. This helps them to ensure a reliable resource of quality dogs to train as guide dogs. Prior to that time, extensive time and effort was invested in searching in shelters and other sources for adult dogs and puppies. Today, Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s breeding program supplies more than 90% of the dogs used by the school.
The Canine Development Center (CDC) located in Patterson, NY is where guide dogs begin their careers. The first steps are taken to creating a successful guide dog team: breeding, birthing, socializing, screening, and placing high-potential puppies in loving nurturing puppy-raising homes. The Canine Development Center is at the leading edge of advances in canine genetics, breeding technology, and behavioral development. Over many generations of selective breeding, Guiding Eyes has maximized the qualities required for a working guide dog and minimized health problems that could disrupt or shorten a guide dog’s working years. Each year there are approximately 500 puppies bred at Guiding Eyes and half will become working dogs. The training center has also taken the lead in developing a curriculum and training program for those students with multiple disabilities such as deafness or orthopedic problems, in addition to their visual impairment. The Special Needs Program gives selected guide dogs additional training designed for a specific students unique requirements. 
In 2007, the Canine Development Center staff engaged in extensive research in puppy training. In 2008, Guiding Eyes launched the Heeling Autism Program, which provides service dogs to children and families with autism. These special dogs are primary for safety, but they also offer companionship and emotional support. In 2009 the staff worked with design consultants to explore how to effectively develop the CDC’S 30-acre property into a one-of-a-kind facility. Guiding Eyes also acquired an in-house Veterinary Magnetic Resonance Machine (MRI) making it the only guide dog school in the world equipped with this technology. In 2011, Guiding Eyes launched its One Step Ahead campaign. This is fundraising drive to raise $8 million to build a world-class puppy training academy on its Patterson, NY property. The new facility and redesigned grounds will comprise a unique campus that will set the standard for guide dog facilities.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides specially bred Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers. The most commonly used breed is the Labrador Retriever. They can be placed in every environment and with any person because they are such a versatile breed. Most of the puppies are bred from Guiding Eye’s own breeding colony located in Patterson New York. They select dogs for breeding. They are bred for health, confidence, love, and temperament. Guiding Eyes for the Blind began their breeding program in 1966. Breeding up particular personalities takes place more slowly and subtly, over time. Through selective breeding, high quality animals have been developed with intelligence, temperament, and natural aptitude needed for careers as guide dogs. Guiding Eyes watches all of their dogs and choose the best two or three for breeding. Because of this success rates are going up and dogs are becoming more confident. The success has to do with the sophistication of breeding colonies, where the guide schools have been able to observe the body and mind of the guide dog.
Puppies are not neutered or spayed until they go back to Guiding Eyes. Once they come back puppies are evaluated and Guiding Eyes keeps the best of the best to carry on their lines an raise future generations of Guide Dogs. The dogs undergo further evaluation, including an extensive medical exam, to determine if they are a suitable candidate for the breeding program. This is a complex process where not just the dog is looked at, but their siblings’ progress and health is considered as well. If it turns out that they are a suitable candidate, then they continue on to Guide Dog training. With careful monitoring, generation after generation, guide schools know how to mix and match parents to get the trait they need. From an early age, experts test each puppy’s elbows and hips, and track which parents produce the healthiest offspring. Genetically, experts have focused their attention on two major traits. One is hip quality; dogs with bad hips will not be used. The second is behavior. Jane Russenberger, senior director of breeding at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Patterson, NY, has had success in the Labrador Retrievers. In general the Labrador Retriever incidence of hip dysplasia is about 20% and in Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s population it is down to about 2%. Ms. Russenberger believes the success comes in part from sheer numbers. Working with so many dogs has allowed Guiding Eyes for the Blind to take an already successful idea to higher levels.
A study done by Cornell University Veterinary School looked at 1,498 dogs from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The study was interested in the measurement of hip joint quality. Cornell found a complex generation from a family of Labrador Retrievers. This included 1,236 connected dogs over 17 generations from a particular male dog. The results of selective breeding were evident in the relationship between breeding values and their accuracy. Over half of the Labrador Retrievers were bred at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind facility. Dogs with more accurate breeding values produced more progeny, with clustering of breeding values with higher accuracy indicative of better hip joint confirmation. This indicates that the selective breeding practice of Guiding Eyes for the Blind program are effective in improving hip joint confirmation in dogs. Overall the study confirmed that the selection of dogs for hip joint quality resulted in genetic improvement predominantly in the last 10 to 15 years.
1st 9 weeks
When a guide dog is born, its training begins immediately. The dogs are born in the Whelping Kennel facility of Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB), which is located in Patterson, NY. Here, trained volunteers begin the very first and most important part of a guide dog’s training: socialization. The first 9 weeks of a GEB guide dog consists of exposure to various environments and experiences to help with their emotional, as well as intellectual development. By simply interacting with the dogs on a daily basis, these trained volunteers help foster the important bond that must be present between a guide dog and his/her human companion. In addition, these volunteers (or socializers) are also trained in puppy massage techniques that not only help the dogs become familiar with being handled, but also improve the dogs’ health and help enhance their development. Aside from these socialization procedures, the dogs are also taught a few basic commands and basic guide dog etiquettes that are important to learn early on. The first command every guide dog in GEB learns is “sit”. It is a simple command and fairly natural for the dog to do, and so it is taught to them very early on. The other things that are taught are crate etiquette and bathroom etiquette (which is referred to as “get busy”). The socializers introduce the dogs to the crate early on so that they are familiar with it. The reason for this is because oftentimes the dogs will spend a lot of time in the crate, and it is important for them to behave themselves while in there. The crate training is not extensive during the first nine weeks, but more of a way to get the dogs to have a positive attitude with the crate. Finally, the dogs are also fairly house trained. In other words, the socializers also teach the dog to alert his/her human companion when he/she needs to use the bathroom or “get busy”. The dogs aren’t fully trained at this time and are prone to accidents, but for the most part, they know how to “get busy” outside.
9 weeks-18 months
After the dog reaches anywhere from 7–9 weeks, they are then matched with a volunteer Puppy Raiser. These raisers go through specific GEB screening as well as training so that they can properly aide the dogs in their next step to becoming a guide dog. During this time period, the dogs go through training that could be classified as extended socialization. What happens is the puppy raisers take the dog home and teach them how a guide dog is supposed to interact with the outside world. At this time, more commands are introduced and as the dog learns them, he/she gets closer and closer to becoming a full-fledged guide dog. Some of these other commands include: “stand”, “down”, “stay”, “touch”, “back”, “heel” and “close” (among others). However, it’s not enough for the dogs to simply perform these tasks. There are distractions everywhere and the dogs must learn to keep calm and obey his/her master in all situations. During this time the dogs learn how to greet other people and how to interact with different social settings. The raisers are encouraged to take the dogs to as many different places as they can to introduce them to new experiences, as long as the dog is ready them. One of the important things during this training time is to make sure not to ask too much of the dog. The raiser wants the dog to be successful, so it is important not to go too fast with the training procedures. To keep track of a dog’s progress as well as their training and their raisers, GEB has puppy classes for the raiser/dog pairs. At these classes, the training methods are enforced and the raiser and dog get to practice the commands in a controlled environment. This is one of the ways that GEB supports its puppy raisers and offers advice and feedback to help the process be as productive and as fun as possible. GEB also provides veterinary care for the dogs without cost to the raiser. Another set of volunteers that are involved in a dog’s life at this point and time are called Puppy Sitters. Puppy Sitters are just like raisers in many ways. They go through the same training and oftentimes attend the puppy classes as well. The only difference is that they don’t keep the dog with them for a year and-a-half. A puppy sitter will often take one of the puppies for a period of time and expose the puppy to his/her social group, which is often different from that of the puppy raiser. This way, the dogs get a wider variety of exposure to different things.
Volunteers called Puppy Raisers take 8-week-old Guiding Eyes puppies into their homes. They teach them basic obedience and house manners, and they socialize the pups with everything the world has to offer, including Puppy Raisers are fully supported by Guiding Eyes; the organization pays for all veterinary care and raisers are required to attend regular training classes.
A 2011 multi-generational volunteer dog foster program at Atlantic Shores  in Virginia Beach, Virginia, one of the first programs of its type in the nation, brings together qualified retirement community residents and elementary school students. The foster puppies will live with selected senior citizens in the Atlantic Shores retirement community, where the dogs will have early exposure to elevators, sidewalks, ramps, wheelchairs, and sliding doors — elements that mirror the conditions in the second phase, when dogs receive 18 month formal training. At the retirement community, the puppies will be integrated into normal everyday resident activities and will be featured in special events focused on the puppies. Beginning at age eleven weeks, the puppies will also go out to local elementary schools, where classes will instruct students about the guide dog service and proper interaction with guide dogs. Students will also create their own reporting segments and follow the progress of the guide dogs via in class broadcasts on the schools' television feeds.
After a dog reaches 13–18 months, they are then returned to Guiding Eyes for an In For Training test or IFT test. This test provides information on how well the dog handles stress without a familiar person to support them. A dog who is able to pass their IFT shows that they are adaptable to different situations, and are confident and relaxed even though they are in an unfamiliar environment. If a dog doesn’t do well on their IFT, as well as if they have had a history of consistent insecurities or poor adaptability with their raisers, they are usually released at this point. Other dogs that pass and show promise are often either re-evaluated or start with the training program. Other dogs will join the Guiding Eyes breeding colony, and become parents to future generations of Guiding Eyes dogs.
It takes roughly 4 months to train a guide dog with an additional month to train the new owner with the dog. During this time, the dog increases his/her command vocabulary from the basic “come”, “sit”, “stay” that they learned with their raiser to more advanced commands such as “find the crossing” and “find the door”. The reason for this type of training is for the dog to be able to use his/her initiative instead of direct obedience. Peel, B. W. (1975). The training of guide dogs for the blind. Guiding Eyes does not want dogs that obey no matter what. They want dogs that obey, as long as it keeps both the owner and the dog out of danger. Most of the formal training is done in the natural environment like quiet suburb as well as busy streets and rural areas. The only artificial methods of training involve obstacles and traffic work. The dog learns how to travel to the left and to the right of the object with a preference that the unit (dog and handler) travel to the right so that the dog is between the obstacle and the owner. At this point of training, the dog is in a full harness. Peel, B. W. (1975). The training of guide dogs for the blind.
In addition to working on obstacles, there is also traffic work, which tends to be the most complicated part of the dog’s training. One of the main reasons for this is because at this point, the dog needs to learn how to disobey a command if it is unsafe to follow the instructions it is given. First of all, a dog learns to stop at all intersections. The handler then listens whether it is safe to cross or not before giving the command. However, if a car is coming, the dog will disobey the command and wait for the road to be clear before crossing. To ensure that the training is complete, the handler will often go through the process with the dog with a blindfold on to make sure that the dog is really ready for their new handler. Peel, B. W. (1975). The training of guide dogs for the blind.
Matching a guide dog to a blind person is arguably the most important part of the entire process. Any blind person can apply for the course; however, they receive an in-depth home interview and then are carefully evaluated based on their physical abilities and personalities before being matched with a dog. The guide dogs and students then meet and spend 26 days at the Yorktown Heights training facility learning to work safely with each other. The 4 month process the dogs just went through is pretty much repeated, but at a faster pace (i.e. 26 days). At the conclusion of this training, a graduation ceremony is held in celebration of the new partnerships and puppy raisers get to see their dogs become full-fledged guide dogs. After graduation, Guiding Eyes doesn’t just desert the new pair. Instructors provide continuous follow-up services to graduates of Guiding Eyes for the Blind in order to provide assistance, suggestions and general support as required. The average working life of a dog is 8–10 years, and Guiding Eyes makes sure that all retired dogs are placed into loving homes – oftentimes with the original raiser.
Career Change Dogs
One important thing to mention is that not all dogs who begin the Guiding Eyes program graduate and become actual guide dogs. Sometimes, even dogs who pass their IFTs and go to formal training are deemed unfit to actually become a guide dog. The good news is that these dogs have many other options open to them. Some of the personality and temperament traits that make a dog unsuitable for guide dog work are the specific traits that are ideal for detection or patrol work. Some even go on to become therapy dogs for programs such as Heeling Autism, which is a program started through Guiding Eyes to help families with kids that have Autism. Most importantly, some of these dogs also get the chance to become loving companions to a family (usually their original puppy raiser).
Guiding Eyes is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, funded via private donations. The school does not charge tuition, rather the dogs, training, students' room and board for 26 days and a follow-up support are provided at no cost to the student.
According to Charity Navigator, GEB had income of $19 million for fiscal year 2009/2010 and assets of $50 million. GEB is an accredited BBB organization and has received a 54.57 rating, or three of four possible stars, at Charity Navigator, not meeting criteria for transparency related to the process of determining compensation of the CEO and not meeting criteria for audited financials.
GEB's biggest fundraiser is an annual golf tournament which has been hosted for the past six years by Eli Manning, quarterback for the New York Giants. The tournament was founded by former professional golfer and golf broadcaster Ken Venturi in 1977 and each year awards the Corcoran Cup, named after Fred Corcoran. GEB's founder, Don Kauth, had encouraged Richard “Dick” Ryan to start a golf tournament. Ryan, an attorney, was GEB's board chairman and represented Augusta National Golf Club. Ryan agreed, naming the tournament after his business partner, Corcoran. The golf tournament, sponsored by Entergy, Pepsi and others, has raised over $7 million for Guiding Eyes since its creation in 1977.
Since 2008, Guiding Eyes has operated an e-storefront with Lands End via that company's Business Outfitters division. Customers can order clothing embroidered with logos associated with the dog breeds bred and trained by Guiding Eyes in their work: yellow and black Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. The artwork was produced by a company in Norwalk, Connecticut, TFI/Envision.
In 2010, Guiding Eyes initiated expansion of its canine development center from 16,000 square feet to 30,000sf in a three-phase $7.8 million construction project. The first phase included a whelping kennel and outdoor work area; the second phase, projected for 2013 will include a breeding and puppy socialization kennel; and the third phase will include a 1,500-square foot veterinary hospital.
Guiding Eyes in the News
- "Guiding Eyes for the Blind Is Sponsoring a Walkathon"
- "For Guide Dogs, Boot Camp Is Tough (No Chewing Allowed)"
- "Guiding Eyes for the Blind Receives $3 Million Grant from PepsiCo Foundation"
- "Los Angeles ATF Explosives Detection Canines Play Major Role at Super Bowl XLV"
- "For Manning, a Golf Tournament With a Purpose"
- Guiding Eyes for the Blind - Leading Guide Dog School - Puppy Raising
- "For Guide Dogs, Boot Camp Is Tough (No Chewing Allowed)". The New York Times, James V. O'Connor, July 23, 1995.
- "About Guiding Eyes for the Blind".
- "About Us".
- "Guiding Eyes for the Blind 2009 Annual Report" (PDF).
- "Fact Sheet : Guiding Eyes for the Blind".
- "Breeding Better Guide Dogs".
- "Guiding Eyes: Questions?".
- "Cornellians Train Future Guide Dogs". Cornell Sun, NOVEMBER 20, 2009.
- "Spotlight on Guide Dogs Provide Eyes". Cornell Sun, SEPTEMBER 8, 2002.
- "Atlantic Shores Seniors to Raise Guide Dog Puppies in Unique Multi-Generational Partnership". PR Newswire, via Sacramento Bee, October 27, 2011.
- "Va. Beach retirement community nurtures guide dogs". Pilotonline.com, October 30, 2011, Elizabeth Simpson.
- "Guiding Eyes Alternative Careers".
- Peel, B. W. (1975). "The training of guide dogs for the blind". New Zealand Veterinary Journal 23 (11): 269–272. doi:10.1080/00480169.1975.34257. PMID 1060967.
- "Teaching Man's Best Eyes to See". The New York Times, March 6, 1996, Alex Witchel. March 6, 1996.
- "BBB report: Guiding Eyes for the Blind". BBB.
- "Giants QB Eli Manning once again headlines Guiding Eyes Classic". Lohud.com, The Journal News, June 9, 2010.
- "Guiding Eyes for the Blind's 33rd Annual Golf Classic Scheduled". Cybergolf.com.
- "Press Release: Guiding Eyes for the Blind Names Lands' End Official Apparel Provider". Reuters, February 20, 2008. February 20, 2008.
- "Guiding Eyes to break ground Friday on expanded Canine Development Center". Lohud.com, The Journal News, June 9, 2010.
- Charity Rating Guide and Watchdog Report, Volume Number 59, December 2011
- Guiding Eyes for the Blind Official Site
- International Guide Dog Federation
- Assistance Dog International's directory of membership organizations
- Legal information about service animals in the United States
- Atlantic Shores, retirement community with GEB puppy cam
- 2020 Vision Quest, GEB-trained Quinn leads his master to climb the tallest peaks in NH
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